Ethical Implications of Contextualization: Part 4/6: Contextualization and the Ethics of Identity


The following is Part 4 of a 6 part series:

Honesty about Self Identity

For some extreme contextualists, an ethically dangerous situation arises over the issue of deception. In 1998 Phill Parshall, a respected missiologist and himself a pioneering contextualist, strongly warned his own peers against what he saw as a growing trend of deception among Christian missionaries 1. Parshall had become deeply disturbed at the numbers of Christians posing as Muslims to reach Muslims which he called “C5 missionaries,” to say nothing about those who would call themselves C-6!

The missionary in that situation must ask this question: “What would my supporters back home say if they knew that I tell all my neighbors that I am a Muslim?” The answer to that question could be telling. Deception is poisonous not only to one’s own soul, but also to the ministry and the very unity of the church.

In response to his warning, Parshall was strongly rebuffed by Massey (1999), Gilliland (1998), and Winter (1999) among others. Travis also defended his own stance, refusing to condemn the practice of missionaries converting to Islam. 2

The strongest arguments against missionary deception, however, come not from missiologists like Parshall, but from Muslims themselves. One cultural observation that Arabs often make about Americans is that they are terrible liars. Many Arabs, on the other hand, are practiced in the arts of deception from an early age 3. I have had conversations with  Muslims who have said,  “I think that so-and-so is an undercover Christian, but what a coward! He’s afraid, so he calls himself a Muslim! He is waiting to prey on the weak and unsuspecting.”

This trend has not escaped the attention of Muslim leadership. When Interviewed by Mother Jones Magazine for an article about undercover missions, a Muslim leader, Sayyid Syeed, Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America, was aware of the issue. “Once you have this kind of sneaky way, the respect for the holy is gone,” he said. “Sacred rituals, such as prostration and the Ramadan fast, are used to lure people away from their own religion. The missionary,” says Syeed, “is seen as someone who is stabbing you in the back. 4

Deception, to our shame, has become a mark of the missionary. Woe to us if we thus drag Christ’s name through the mud. The same article reports the following exchange between Rick Love and a class of missionary candidates:

Love asks the class…”Did Jesus ever lie?” In unison, the class says, “No.”

“But did Jesus raise his hand and say, ‘I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?'” Again, 20 voices call out, “No!”

Would it not be better if we were to follow the example of the apostle who said, “rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 5

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  1. “Danger! New Directions in Contextualization.” Phill Parshall, Evangelical Missions Quarterly 34(4):404-410. 1998.
  2. IJFM Vol. 17:1 Spring 2000.
  3. I write this as an Arab-American myself and with the greatest affection for both peoples.
  4. The Stealth Crusade Barry Yeoman, Mother Jones Magazine, May/June 2002.
  5. II Corinthians 4:2-3

About Author

Andre Houssney is a Lebanese American with many years of global ministry experience. From an early age he has engaged international students including Muslims. Having lived in Lebanon and Egypt and traveled in over 30 countries, Andre has a wealth of knowledge of cross cultural issues in relation to missions. His studies in Ethnomusicology have prepared him well to help national believers to produce ethnic worship music. Among others, he has worked on projects in Sudan, North Africa, Lebanon and Kosova. For the last 12 years Andre has been on staff with Horizons International with numerous responsibilities not the least of which is teaching in the Engaging Islam seminars in various locations nationally and globally.Andre has a passion to see the missionary movement restored to its biblical roots. Andre is also president of Sambah Naturals, a mother company for Zambian Soap company and Zambeezi organic lip balm

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